Reckoned as one of Asia’s oldest and India’s biggest film gala, the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), features a segment called Country of Focus every year, though which the most celebrated works of famous filmmakers from the country are screened. This year, IFFI’s Country of Focus was Korea, and apart from Korean film screenings, the festival honoured master of contemporary Korean cinema, Im Kwon-Taek (born 1936) with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
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Widely regarded as the master of contemporary Korean cinema, Im Kwon-Taek is best known for films like “Wife”, “The Family Pedigree”, “Evergreen” and Chunhyang”, “Ghiwaseon” and “Low Life”, and has made more than one hundred films since 1962.
Im made his directorial debut with Duman River in 1962, and become a much sought after director from 1972 after the release of ‘Yushin’ for which he received numerous awards the world over. Till the 1980s, Im was mostly known as a commercial filmmaker who could efficiently direct as many as eight genre picture a year helping to fulfil the quote for domestic picture set by the government.
But, the turning point of his career came with the 1981 film ‘Mandala’ – a landmark in Korean cinema. ‘Mandala’ firmly established IM Kwon-Taek’s international reputation as the country’s foremost auteur. Adapted from a controversial novel which shocked readers with its powerful portrayal of anguish suffered by some Buddhist monks in the search for enlightenment, Im’s wonderful film explores the theme of spiritual quest in physical terms with images of overwhelming beauty.
Im, in his films, continues to explore themes from Korea’s past while also focusing on the Korean cultural identity in modern times. Among his most notable films of the recent times are ‘Sopyonje’ (1993) and ‘Chunhyang’ (2000) both of which concentrate on the traditional Korean musical art of Pansori and was based on a traditional Korean legend. Apart from being a critical success, Sopyonje was also a hit at the box office too.
Sopyonje, which remains one of the most popular Korean films of all time, deals with themes of humanism national identity and native culture as expressed through the musical art form of Pansori (Pansori are traditional Korean folk songs based on proverbs and quotations from classical literature performed by travelling singers). Set in the present, but told largely through a series of flashbacks spanning the period from past-WWII to the sixties, the film’s success brought a revival of Pansori music in Korea.
Chunhyang is the 15th screen adaptation of a classic story, set in the thirteenth century, charting the star-crossed romance between a regional governor’s son and the Winsome daughter of a former Courtesan. Im’s version became the first South Korean feature to be invited to compete at Cannes in the competition.
The award and invitation to IIFI could not have come at a better time for Im, whose career of late has been in the doldrums. Chunhyang’s box-office reception in Seoul was a huge disappointment for him and the Cannes invite was considered vindication of Im in South Korea.
Im’s other achievements include best direction at Riviera in 2002 for his 98th feature ‘Chihwaseon’ (Stroke of Fire)’ an honorary Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2005’. In April 2007, Im released his 100th film ‘Beyond the years’, a informal sequel to Sopyonje.